The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye

You’ll never learn. You’re a born loser.

Based on the titles alone, I was torn between this and my other remaining film as to which would be the final one in my quest. Ultimately, after doing a little digging into each, I decided to make this the penultimate one, pretty much solely on the preconception that I would enjoy it less than the other. The Long Goodbye, in what I’ve found about it, is made out to be one of the quintessential films of the 1970s, epitomizing the decade as it existed in the timeless locale of Los Angeles. Based on my other experiences with films of 1970s Los Angeles, and the fact that my experiences with Robert Altman have generally been rather tepid, I didn’t think I’d have much to look forward to with this one. The film itself ended up being pretty much what I expected, but it still had a good deal of character to it, so it wasn’t all for naught.

Elliott Gould takes over the already somewhat famous cinematic role of Philip Marlowe, here updated to put him square into the setting of 1970s L.A. Marlowe ends up giving a ride to Tijuana for a friend of his, Terry Lennox, only to find out when he arrives back at his house that Terry is under suspicion of killing his wife, and is then found to have apparently killed himself in Mexico. Marlowe doesn’t buy the story, however, and the film recounts his personal investigation into what really happened, coupled with a secondary case of a missing writer husband that Marlowe is hired to take on. It’s pretty much apparent right from the beginning that this is a typical Robert Altman film; the first ten minutes or so consist of Gould’s Marlowe trying to find a way to feed his cat, in probably the most lackadaisical manner the character could’ve possibly done it in. Sure enough, the rest of the film was just like the opening scene; the cinematography evoked a feeling of passivity, along with a constantly mobile camera that, reportedly, Altman requested to make the viewer feel like a voyeur to Marlowe’s life, and the script came off as entirely ad-libbed, which wouldn’t have surprised me if a majority of the scenes actually were (apparently, the stuff with Gould and Sterling Hayden was). What was especially interesting was that even though the anthology setup of so many of Altman’s films was indeed partially alive in this one, what with all the subplots and B-stories, in this case, everything actually ended up tied together in the end, if only superfluously, as the film treated its ending that was supposed to tie all the subplots together with as much attention as it did the rest of the film, which is to say it barely glanced at it at all.

If I have any problem with Altman’s films, it’s that their mood seems to be one of extreme ambivalence. Everything from the pacing to the dialogue to the cinematography just screams a sense of dreariness, a languid curiosity at best, instead of an engaging storyline and entertaining production value. Sure, they’re well made, and I can’t fault Altman for the kind of films he makes or how good he is at making them, but if I were to pick any single director as the one that, given just about any one of his films, I would say could put me to sleep the easiest and the soundest, it’d be Robert Altman. The Long Goodbye is an excellent example of this, and even though I could see some worth in what it was doing, it was the briefest thanks I could give that the film clocked in at under two hours. I will say, though, that Elliott Gould was highly enjoyable in the lead role, but that’s about all I could say toward this one and why you should see it.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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